Before we leave the topic of spirituality, we’re going to take a look at a critical factor in creating spiritual communities: the Rabbi. I’ve tried not to be blatantly biographical, but I’m making an exception in talking about spirituality. Why? I can generalize about congregations, but I can’t generalize about “rabbis and spirituality,” because each rabbi has a unique path and story.
I wonder, is spirituality a generational issue? I don’t remember my rabbi, of blessed memory, using that word when I was growing up in the ‘70’s. Nor do I remember him often mentioning God (I could be wrong on that last score but don’t believe so.) I attended The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) from 1976 to 1985 (undergrad and reb school), and again don’t remember the words spirituality or God mentioned all that much.
I loved my education at JTS and remain grateful for it to this very day. But the approach to Jewish living in those years generally excluded discussions about God, faith and spirituality from the curriculum, except in the most abstract academic manner, although some of us frequently discussed those issues well into the night as students, especially over Shabbat evening meals. We had no or few role models to raise these issues with and we really felt that not too many of our faculty members concerned themselves with the exploration of their own life of faith, or if they did, they didn’t seem very willing to share these issues with us. In fact, I would even say that our education undermined the cultivation of spiritual feelings. Pretty sad, considering that many of us entered school with a serious belief in God, even if it wasn’t the most sophisticated theological understanding of the Divine.
I can’t detail my encounters with spirituality during 10 years of Congregational life, seven years of Federation life and seven years of Foundation life. And of course, a lot in life has happened during these years outside of work. While I periodically experienced spiritual moments in all of these iterations, I felt that I was undergoing a slow, spiritual death. In retrospect, I don’t fault my work environments much, although none of them were conducive to intentionally cultivating spirituality.
What I realized is that I had allowed myself to drift from my own spiritual moorings to the point of cynicism. As spirituality became more of a buzzword, I felt that spirituality was another form of narcissism clothed in religious vocabulary.
For whatever the reasons, I am grateful to say that I have felt the resurgence of spiritual feelings. For me, that means paying greater awareness to those around me, to what I do and how I do it, to learning from those who have spent more time on doing their own spiritual work and reading more about spiritual masters. Prayer feels richer, relationships feel deeper, the meaning of everyday moments is greater, and my questions about existential meaning are more insistent. So that has been my path of spiritual enchantment, disenchantment, and re-enchantment.
What’s your story?
Rabbi Hayim Herring